The Kawasaki W650 has been customized in myriad ways, but we seldom see it as a pure engine donor for another project. And why not? Kawasaki’s classically-style parallel twin is arguably one of the most attractive motors from the past couple of decades.
This delightful hardtail bobber uses the engine, gearbox, carbs and the basic electrics from a 1999-model W650. But every other part has come from somewhere else, or been made from scratch. A tasteful combo by owner and builder, Marnitz Venter.
Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Marnitz’s love for vintage twins runs deep. He has a few classic BSAs and Triumphs in his garage, and runs the retro parts and apparel site Old Skool Trading. Custom jobs occasionally get squeezed in between life’s other priorities.
Marnitz’s last build was a show-stopping Triumph bobber that took four years to finish, but also bagged gold at the Lightning Bolt custom show in Cape Town, late last year. After the show, Marnitz “was sort of looking for a project, but not really.” That is, until he saw a partially built Kawasaki W650 standing in the corner of a local shop, V Custom Cycles.
“I was looking for something reliable that you can just hop on and go,” he tells us. “I fell in love with the look of this motor, especially the bevel drive side. I asked Patt [V Custom Cycles owner] about the bike and he said I must make him an offer—the next moment there was a new project standing in my garage.”
Although the bike was incomplete, the engine had done very little mileage. So Marnitz took it out, cleaned and polished it, and mounted it in his workshop as a display piece. Then inspiration hit: “I took some measurements of a Sportster motor, and decided to bring in a custom hardtail frame for a Sporty from the States.”
Kraft Tech Inc. in California supplied the Sportster-specific frame, which Marnitz then modified to house the Kawasaki mill. He cut off the old motor mounts, welded in new ones and fabricated a set of custom engine brackets. The rear of the frame had an offset to accommodate a Harley belt drive, so that had to be addressed too.
Marnitz salvaged the forks and triples for the front end from an accident damaged Sportster. The tubes were straightened, then the lowers and yokes were shaved of everything they didn’t need—like the brake caliper mounts. A set of shrouds from Lowbrow Customs was added too, to streamline the look.
For the wheels, Marnitz sourced a pair of vintage Yamaha drum brake hubs; the front is of unknown origin, but the rear is from an RD350. The rear hub had to be modified to get the sprocket alignment right, then both ends were laced to 18” aluminum rims with stainless steel spokes.
We’re not usually fans of whitewall tires and neither is Marnitz…but these Shinko E270s were the only vintage treads he could find during the project. And once he’d spooned them on, they actually suited the build’s rapidly evolving style.
Moving to the bodywork, Marnitz picked out a Honda CB200 fuel tank, then proceeded to make a whole bunch of changes to it. It’s narrower and shorter now, with extra space underneath for the ignition coil and new mounts to attach it. There’s also a Daytona speedo bolted to the right side of it, and an LED indicator light panel embedded up top.
The rest of the bodywork is minimal. There’s a faux oil tank under the seat that houses the wiring and some of the switches, and a slim rear fender out back. Dion Korkie handled the upholstery on the chunky bobber saddle, and made a matching tool bag that’s mounted lower down.
On his previous build, Marnitz assembled a crew of friends to help him—but this time, he handled all the fabrication himself. “I learned to TIG weld over the lockdown,” he says. “It was also my first attempt at building my own stainless steel exhaust pipes.”
His handiwork extends to everything from the stainless steel rear fender stays, to the drilled brackets that hold the battery. Marnitz even extended the W650’s sprocket cover, by welding in and shaping some aluminum into an integrated chain guard.
The mini ape hangers are custom too, complete with an internal throttle. The switches, carb tops and air filters are from Motor Rock in Japan, while the grips, levers, mirror and vintage headlight are all from Lowbrow Customs. Marnitz mounted a pair of LED turn signals below the headlight, sunk another pair into the back of the frame, and installed a Prism Supply Company taillight.
The forward-mounted foot controls were pieced together from a hacked up set of 1” handlebars, with a handful of tailor-made brackets and bushings.
Marnitz’s brother-in-law, Justin, helped him whip the wiring into shape, while Patt assisted in sourcing many of the parts for the build. Rudi at Kicker Paints was responsible for the stunning candy paint job, which flips from black to gold to green in sunlight.
The bike’s finished off with neat little touches like color-coded spark plug cables. And there’s one modern detail too: a pair of 3D-printed Kawasaki emblems on the tank.
Throwing that many parts together can easily result in a disastrous mishmash, but Marnitz has nailed it. There’s just one problem: he originally planned to sell it, but he’s having too much fun riding it.